Skip to main content

Tokyo dispatches team to survey islands at center of Japan, China tensions

From Jessica King, CNN
updated 9:07 PM EDT, Sun September 2, 2012
Japanese surveyors conduct an offshore survey from boats by the disputed island chain on Sunday.
Japanese surveyors conduct an offshore survey from boats by the disputed island chain on Sunday.
  • The islands are believed to be rich in oil resources
  • They are privately owned, but Tokyo wants to buy them
  • The team surveys the shoreline but does not set foot on the islands

(CNN) -- Tokyo's governor dispatched a team Sunday to survey a set of islands in the East China Sea to which both Japan and China lay claim.

China's state-run media immediately declared the survey "illegal."

The incident is the latest in rising territorial tensions in North Asia.

The uninhabited islands are known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, and are privately-owned by a Japanese family.

Interactive: Asia's disputed islands -- who claim's what?

History clouds China-Japan island dispute
U.S. in middle of China-Japan flap
Tensions mount between China and Japan
Japan arrests 14 pro-China activists

But both China and Japan separately claim them as part of their territory. The islands, located between Taiwan and Okinawa, sit among rich fishing waters and are also believed to be rich in oil resources.

For now, the Japanese government leases the island from the family to "peacefully and stably maintain" them, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

But Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has begun talks with the private owners and said he expects to strike a deal to buy the islands by the end of the year.

Anti-Japan protests erupt in China amid island dispute

"In place of a weak-kneed national government that has failed to act from start to finish, Tokyo will consider how to make the most of the fertile seas and abundant nature of these islands," Ishihara said earlier this year.

The team dispatched Sunday sailed on a ship and then rode on rubber boats to survey the shoreline. It did not set foot on the islands.

Animosity has run deep between China and Japan over the islands.

Islands dispute reopening old wounds in China and Japan

They are symbolic of what many in China see as unfinished business, redressing the impact of Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s.

China says its claim on Diaoyu extends back hundreds of years. Japan says China ceded sovereignty when it lost the Sino-Japanese war in 1895.

Japan then sold the islands in 1932 to descendants of the original settlers.

Japan's surrender in World War II clouded the issue again.

The islands were administered by the U.S. occupation force after the war. But in 1972, Washington returned them to Japan as part of its withdrawal from Okinawa.

That, says Chinese analyst Guo Xiangang, is where the current troubles begin.

"The U.S. handed over the island to Japan for its own purpose during the Cold War. So, personally, I think the U.S. should take the blame for the dispute of Diaoyu island," said Guo, the deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank connected to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"There shouldn't be any discussion on Diaoyu Island. It has always been a part of China," he said.

In August, a diplomatic row erupted between Japan and China after a group of Chinese nationals were photographed raising flags there. They were arrested.

Japanese activists too have swum ashore, raising their flag, in incidents in 1990 and 1996.

In 2010, tensions rose to a boiling point when a Chinese fishing trawler rammed into a Japan Coast Guard vessel on patrol in the islands' waters.

Japan detained the crew members but later released them under Chinese diplomatic and trade pressure.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.